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Special Education Alert

Supreme Court Decision Places the Burden of Proof on the Challenging Party When a Student's IEP is Questioned

On November 14, 2017, the Supreme Court decided Schaffer v. Weast; holding that the burden of persuasion in an administrative hearing challenging an IEP is properly placed upon the party seeking relief, whether that is the parents of a child with a disability or the school district. As a practical matter, because the vast majority of impartial hearings are requested by dissatisfied parents, parents will now have the burden of bringing forth enough evidence to convince a hearing officer that their child was denied a free, appropriate public education. Previously, in New York State, school districts were charged with affirmatively proving the appropriateness of its IEPs. Allocation of the burden of proof is not likely to affect the actual outcome of the case unless the hearing officer finds that the evidence on both sides is essentially equal. However, parents must now be prepared to present their case first, through testimony and documentary evidence. It is now vitally important that parents contemplating filing for impartial hearing consult with an experienced special education attorney prior to submitting a request for hearing to the District. Cases with strong evidence and merit should still be filed and can still be won. Parents should not be discouraged by the Supreme Court decision from continuing to advocate for their child's rights, but should make sure they are prepared.

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